Melbourne -- The pilot of a small jet was killed Friday afternoon when the plane he was flying crashed into woods just west of a runway at Melbourne International Airport.
Airport officials could not release any information about the pilot, pending an ongoing National Traffic Safety Board investigation. Officials from the NTSB were expected by today at the crash site, about a quarter-mile short of Runway 9L. The airport's main runway is parallel to the south.
Eden Cook, public relations manager for the airport, said the pilot was the only one aboard the five-seat plane referred to as a "personal jet" by its manufacturer, Maverick Jets Inc.
[In March 2001 McCotter Aviation purchased majority shares of Maverick Air Inc, which manufactures a twin-engine personal jet in kitset form. McCotter Aviation is controlled by Jim McCotter, the founder and former head of a controversial parachurch organization called "Great Commission International"].
Cmdr. Ron Bell of the Melbourne Police Department said the city fire department's airport station responded to the scene at 4:59 p.m. when it first became known the plane was having problems with its landing gear.
After the crash, a fire erupted in the wooded area, which was quickly extinguished at 5:03 p.m., Bell said.
Cook said no air traffic had to be diverted.
"It was far enough from the runways that we didn't have to close them or divert flights," Cook said.
Michael Lewis, spokesman for AeroGroup Inc., said he and other AeroGroup workers saw the plane as it approached.
"The plane was flying low and erratically over the runway," Lewis said. "It disappeared below the hangars, and we saw black smoke, which seemed to expand in size as it came up."
Johnes Wynn, 15, of Melbourne was riding his bike near Atlantic Jet Center and was listening to scanner traffic between the ground and the plane. He said he heard the pilot report trouble with some of the plane's systems before the crash.
Jim Johnson, executive director for the airport, said it was the first fatality at the airport during his 15-year tenure. The last air fatalities in Melbourne were in 1979, according to NTSB records, when four people were killed in two separate incidents.
"There was no impact to other air traffic at the airport," Johnson said, adding that people inside the terminals didn't seem to notice what had just happened.
"I walked through the baggage terminal and people didn't seem alarmed, " he said.